Mildred R. Lopez, RN
Army Public Health Nursing
October highlights breast cancer awareness and the importance of early detection. Most people are aware of breast cancer, but many forget to take steps to detect the disease in its early stages.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women in the United States, other than skin cancer. It is the second-leading cause of cancer death in women (after lung cancer). The American Cancer Society estimates 232,340 new cases of invasive breast cancer in women and 2,240 in men and 39,620 deaths from breast cancer in the United States in 2013.
The chance of a woman having invasive breast cancer some time during her life is about 1 in 8. The chance of dying from breast cancer is about 1 in 35. Authorities believe that breast cancer death rates have decreased, possibly as the result of early detection and improved treatment. Currently there are about 2.9 million breast cancer survivors in the United States.
Breast cancer is a malignant disease of tissue characterized by tumors formed from uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells. It is found mostly in women, but men can have breast cancer, as well. Breast cancer often starts out too small to be felt. As it grows, it can spread throughout the breast or to other parts of the body.
Although breast cancer can cause death, early detection through regular breast self-exams, regular mammograms and physical exams show excellent results in fighting it.
Typically, a person in the early stages of breast cancer often does not have any symptoms. As the cancer tumor grows, it can cause changes in how the breast looks and feels.
These changes can include the following:
wA new lump or a lump that has changed;
wChange in the size or shape of the breast;
wConstant pain in the breast or nipple;
wBreast skin becoming flaky, red or swollen;
wTenderness in the nipple;
wNipples turned inward;
wFluid other than breast milk coming from the nipple;
wA lump in the underarm area; and
wSwelling of all or part of the breast.
Risk factors for developing breast cancer include the following:
wAge and gender – As we get older, the risk of developing breast cancer increases; and women are more likely to develop breast cancer than men.
wRace – Breast cancer occurrence is higher for non-Hispanic white women than for women of another ethnicity or race. African-American women have the highest rate of death from breast cancer, and Asian / Pacific Islander women have the lowest.
wHaving children – Not having children or having the first child later in life increases the risk of getting breast cancer.
wMenstrual cycle and menopause – Women who had their first menstrual period before age 12 or who went through menopause late also have an increased risk for breast cancer.
wFamily history of breast cancer – Having close relatives with breast or ovarian cancer increases your risk of getting breast cancer.
wPersonal medical history – Having had cancer in one breast increases the risk of developing cancer in the other breast.
Many women with risk factors never develop breast cancer, and women with no identifiable risk factors can get breast cancer. Every woman should discuss the guidelines for breast cancer screenings with her health care provider.
The American Cancer Society recommends the following for people with average risk for cancer and without any specific symptoms:
wIf you are 50 to 74, be sure to have a screening mammogram every two years. If you are 40-49, talk to your doctor about when and how often you should have a screening mammogram.
wReceive clinical breast exams as part of a periodic health exam – about every three years for women in their 20s and 30s and every year for women 40 and over. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention remind us to keep in mind that, at this time, the best way to find breast cancer is with a mammogram. If you choose to have clinical breast exams and perform breast self-exams, be sure you also get regular mammograms.
wWomen should know how their breasts normally feel and report any breast changes promptly to their health care providers.
People who are at increased risk for breast cancer may need to follow a different screening schedule, such as starting at an earlier age or being screened more often.
If you have symptoms that could be related to cancer, see your doctor right away.
For additional information on breast cancer, visit the American Cancer Society webpage at www.cancer.org
, the CDC at www.cdc.org
, or Health Net Federal Services at www.healthnetfederalservices.com
; ask your health care provider; or call Army Public Health Nursing at 772-6404.